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The Second Sunday of Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, January 17, 2021

The Lamp of God Had Not Yet Gone Out

Text: 1 Samuel 3:1–3; 19

Right after the Thanksgiving break in 1972, I was heading back from Roanoke to Covenant College on Lookout Mountain, Georgia, right outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. One of the other students had a friend in Roanoke, so she rode down and back with me in my 1965 Volkswagen Beetle.

Back then Interstate 81 didn’t go all the way to Interstate 40 in Tennessee. I had to take backroads and go through every little town along the way. While traveling through one of those little towns my car suddenly quit, and I drifted into a bank parking lot. The sign on the bank told us that it was almost midnight and it was 20 degrees outside. Debbie was scared both at being stranded in a little town where we knew no one plus it was 20 degrees outside.

I was a young Christian but believed that God had reasons for everything, and this situation was not out of his reach or ability to move on our behalf. I was going to need it to be him because I had no idea what to do. However, whatever God chose to do he would, but I hoped for a solution that didn’t require suffering, pain or freezing to death. I saw a payphone and called my father explaining the situation which was thoughtless on my part. There was nothing he could do to help as we were at least 4 hours away, and now he would worry all night.

When I hung up, I saw a light on in the house across the street and someone peeking out of the curtains. I started walking over to the house and the lights went off. I knocked on the door and there was just silence. I looked around and saw lights in the house next to the bank where we parked. So, I walked over there and knocked on the door. This time a long-haired young man greeted me with a shotgun pointed at my chest. He just said, “What can I do for you?” I also had long hair and a beard, but it wasn’t like we belonged to a fraternity of longhaired men with beards. I was a stranger who potentially could threaten him and his family. I didn’t have any idea what to expect but I explained the situation and pointed to Debbie sitting in the car shivering. His wife peeked around the corner and told him to let us come in because it was so cold outside. I liked her immediately.

They told us that they had a spare bedroom that we could sleep in and they would call a mechanic friend in the morning to look at my car. We set up for a few hours talking about a lot of things, but I found a way to tell them about who I had been and what Jesus had done for me on the cross. To my surprise, they seemed interested and asked a lot of questions. It ends up that they had been talking about this for a while and wanted to know how they could know Jesus as Savior and Lord. We prayed together and they asked the Lord to forgive them for their sins and to save them. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited.

By this time, we were all worn out and we said good night. Debbie went to the guest room and I slept on the floor in the living room under a heavy blanket. As I drifted off to sleep their German Shepherd lay down next to me and snuggled up. It was good to share his warmth. Later that morning, I was awakened to the wonderful smell of breakfast, and the news that their friend had come over earlier and found out that the points in my distributor had seized up. He actually had one available and fixed the car. He wouldn’t accept any money and the couple wouldn’t either. It’s a good thing because I probably didn’t have much.

This past week as I considered the passage from 1 Samuel 3 the Lord brought this story to my remembrance. My friend and I were in a difficult position and I had no solution until I saw the light inside that house where God had made provision for us and salvation to a young couple who already had their hearts prepared for the gospel story. The light gave me the courage and hope that there would be help, without it I can’t imagine what we would have done. I have often thought of this story that happened 48 years ago, and it always reminds me that God sets up situations that often look and feel threatening, but if we walk by faith, we will find that blessings are there. It helped me remember that God is always faithful and unbeknownst to me, it would be a listen that I would learn over and over in my life.

The situation within Israel at the time of our story from 1 Samuel 3 is reminiscent of the story of the organized church and our nation today. Chapter 1 in 1 Samuel tells the story of a man named Elkanah who had two wives named Hanna and Peninnah. Hanna was barren and Peninnah who had given birth to children would provoke her by pointing out that she was barren. Every year Elkanah would take his family from their town to Shiloh to worship and make a sacrifice to the Lord Almighty. Eli an old priest had two sons Hophni and Phinehas who were the priests there who received the sacrifice. I Samuel 1:9–11,

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

Initially, Eli thought that Hannah was drunk but upon hearing her story spoke a blessing over her, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.”

Over a period of time not specified Hanna gave birth to a son and named him Samuel which means, “Heard of God” or, “he who is from God.” Once he was weaned Hanna and Elkanah took the boy Samuel to Shiloh and presented him before the Lord as she had promised. I love her explanation to Eli as to the identity of the boy. I Samuel 1:25–28,

Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. 28Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Chapter 2 begins with “Hannah’s prayer.” I encourage you to go home and read this prayer of Hannah. It is so beautiful and a powerful word of praise to God. You will notice many of the phrases from this wonderful prayer are used in hymns and Contemporary Christian music today. This faithful woman is perpetually honored because she gave glory to the God who rescued her from being barren, and he used her faith and faithfulness to bring a powerful prophet to Israel.

Chapter 2:12–36 tells the story of Eli’s sons, Hopni and Phinehas priests of the Lord at Shiloh. They however are full of evil and blasphemy and have no regard for the glory of the Lord. They made a mockery of the sacrifice and slept with the women who served at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Then God spoke to Eli concerning the judgment that would come upon his house because he did not restrain his sons. God also promised Eli that his line, his family would cease because of their sin, and God would raise up a prophet. God spoke in 1 Samuel 2:34–35,

“And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. 35And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.”

That brings us to our passage for today from 1 Samuel 3:1–20. Let’s read again 1 Samuel 3:1–2,

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place.

The prophetic word of the Lord was seldom heard and so far in 1 Samuel 1 & 2, the only word of the LORD we read of is the word of judgment brought by the man of God against Eli. God didn’t speak often, and when He did, it was a word of judgment. Also, there was seldom a case where God revealed himself in a vision although the word can be translated either vision, oracle, prophecy (divine communication) which was the primary means where God communicated in the Old Testament.

Why was this the case? Because of the hardness of heart among the people of Israel and the corruption of the priesthood. One of the most common symptoms of this is that no one seems to notice, and life goes on like always, until it doesn’t.

As I look back over the last 50 years and analyze the changes that brought us to where we are today morally, spiritually and politically, I see the gradual corruption that we may have acknowledged or commented about but didn’t understand where it would lead us. In a sense, we were lulled to sleep and woke up to a living nightmare. One of the lessons from the Book of Samuel is that God will speak, and guide, when His people seek Him, and when His ministers seek to serve Him diligently.

Today, many of those who call themselves Christian have been feeding on spiritual baby food for so long that they have come to believe what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he wrote,

Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Israel had come to the place where they expected God’s blessings and protection from their enemies without giving themselves to his glory and obedience to the law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Levitical priesthood no longer resembled the ceremony and rites laid down as instruction for worship to the God who was holy. God called his people to pursue holiness in every aspect of their lives out of gratitude for his mercy and kindness that he had shown them. If they would faithfully follow him God offered wonderful and glorious blessings but if they would not, he threatened judgment so that his people would repent and return to faithfulness to him and his holy word.

At the time of the writing of 1 Samuel the worship of God at Shiloh had been severely corrupted and mixed with the worship of the gods of other nations and God had grown silent.

Of Eli it says, “His eyesight had begun to grow so dim that he could not see.” This was true both spiritually and physically of Eli. The fact that he had allowed his sons to corrupt the priesthood points to a possible weariness and lack of passion. It could be that his age made him ineffective as a leader of Israel but it’s just as likely that his passion for the Lord had waned as well. We’ll get back to that in a moment.

Let’s read 1 Samuel 3:3,

The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.

This could possibly be referring to a time reference to early morning because Leviticus 24:1–4 instructed the Levites to make sure the candles “before the Lord” or outside the curtain of the Holy of Holies be kept burning from evening until morning. In this case, considering the story, it may be that it is referring to the light as a flicker of hope that things will turn around now that God had placed Samuel, the prophet of his own choosing in place.

The Lord spoke Samuel’s name three times and apparently it was audibly because three times he runs to Eli saying, “Here I am, you called me?”

Each time Eli tells Samuel that he hasn’t called him and to lay back down. I’ll say one thing for Eli, he’s patient. I love the heart of this young boy who willingly runs to assist his master who is mostly blind and may need help. Samuel is in good company with others throughout the word of God who heard him call and responded with “Here I am!”— Abraham (Genesis 22:1), Jacob (Genesis 46:2), Moses (Exodus 3:4), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8), and Ananias (Acts 9:10). It reminds us that we are simply before Him as loving servants, asking what He wants us to do.

Let’s read 1 Samuel 7,

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

This is in contrast to the sons of Eli in chapter 2:12, “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.” The Hebrew term (no regard) speaks of worthlessness and vileness and often is used to describe those who encourage others to idolatry, insurrection, or sexually immorality. They’re “not knowing” spoke to their spiritual darkness whereas with Samuel it showed unfamiliarity because the word of God had not been revealed to him yet.

Think about that for a moment. The text doesn’t tell us how old Samuel was but the Jewish historian, Josephus, said he was 12 when this took place. If Hanna brought him to Eli after he was weaned then according to Jewish rabbinical traditions, weaning could take place between 18 months and five years old. High infant mortality rates existed in ancient cultures and to live long enough to be weaned was a cause of celebration. In Genesis 21:8, “Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.” So, if Samuel was five years old when Hanna brought him to Eli and the Lord spoke to him at 12 years old, then what was Eli teaching him during those seven years that he was dedicated or lent to the Lord? Samuel didn’t know the Lord because the Lord had not been revealed to him. Could it be that Eli’s passion for God and his word were gone, along with his anointing? A child being raised by a Jewish priest had not been introduced to the Lord whose worship was to be the primary reason for people coming to the Tabernacle at Shiloh. Sound impossible?

Well, according to the website, Revival Outside of the Walls, statistics show that only 12% of young people 18–24 identify as Evangelical Christians. If something doesn’t change when they have kids that number will rise. If you do a study of how quickly Israel turned away from God once they stopped being faithful to God’s commands, you will find it only took one generation. Moses wrote God’s command in Deuteronomy 4:7–9,

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? 9Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children—.”

I’m wondering how many generations of children we have neglected to teach the word of God and their only hope being salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? What is the evidence that this has happened?

Today is Right to Life Sunday and for all the gains in the Right to Life movement over the last four years, we are looking at a new administration that is vehemently pro-choice and two generations of people who have grown to believe that it is a reproductive right and the choice of the woman. They have decided that children can be aborted up to the time of delivery, and even after birth they can be left to die if the parents don’t want them.

Could you ever think this would happen? It did to Israel as they chose to worship the pagan god Molech and offered their children as a living sacrifice to a god that wasn’t. Are we to be in despair? No, but we should be in repentance and pay attention to the point of our story. If we hope to see a day when Roe v Wade is overturned and sexual perversion is no longer celebrated and the many distinctive laws ordained by God that once made us a great nation return, it will only happen when those who claim to be the people of God hear his calling and say, “Here I am, for you called me.”

Finally, let’s read 1 Samuel 3:8–12,

8And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.”

Of course, today’s reading ends with Samuel telling Eli all that the Lord had said to him and replying, “it is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.”

I wonder how long it had been since he heard the voice of God speaking to him.

“And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.”

It was the prophet Samuel who encouraged all of Israel to worship God as their King, but they wanted a king like other nations. So, God told Samuel to anoint Saul king over Israel and when Saul failed to obey the word of God Samuel, at God’s direction, anointed David as king over God’s people. It all began that day when Samuel heard the call of the Lord, and said, “Here I am, for your servant hears.”

God speaks to us through his word and through the witness of the Holy Spirit, yet sometimes he speaks to us through other people, or in dreams and that still small voice. Do you hear from God? Are you seeking to hear from the Lord? He’s calling us and is willing, like Samuel to raise us up to places we never imagined. This week take time to sit before the Lord, perhaps saying, “Here I am Lord, your servant is listening.”

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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